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THE SENSIBLE TRAVELER

Priceline is back to bidding

Priceline is going back to its roots, once again promoting its bid-for-travel service for last-minute flights.

With airline ticket prices rising and more planes flying, Priceline officials say airlines are now more receptive to discounting fares to fill seats that are empty less than 14 days before a flight's departure.

Brian Ek, a spokesman for Priceline, said the company moved away from its original bidding concept and began operating more as a standard online travel agency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said airlines at that time cut their fares, to the point where the savings on bids were minimal.

''There just wasn't that much savings to be had," Ek said.

Now, Ek said, savings range from 20 to 60 percent on last-minute fares, which tend to be the most expensive.

Ek said one customer recently submitted a winning bid of $198 for a last-minute flight from Houston to Newark that would have cost $476 if it had been booked the standard way through Priceline. A customer flying from Boston to Minneapolis saved 58 percent with a winning bid of $181 for a fare that retailed at $428, he said.

Ek said the savings are much less, about 10 to 15 percent, on flights booked further in advance through the bidding process. He said savings of that amount are often not enough to persuade consumers to give up the certainty that comes with purchasing a specific flight on a specific airline.

Customers who bid for flights on Priceline have to be flexible. They place their bid on a flight to a certain destination, but only if the bid is accepted do they learn their itinerary and which airline they will be flying.

Travelers using Priceline must agree to depart between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. with up to one connection each way. All purchases, once approved, are nonrefundable and cannot be changed. Priceline officials say the best deals are available on off-peak days like Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Priceline also accepts bids on hotel rooms and rental cars.

What kids like

The Embassy Suites chain is distributing visitors guides for children at its hotels in 20 US cities.

Assuming that parents who book hotel rooms will be happy about their stay if their children are happy, Embassy Suites last summer launched the ''Kids-Eye View" guide in 10 cities and this summer is expanding it to 10 more.

Embassy, based in Memphis and owned by Hilton Hotels, hired a company to survey 1,000 children ages 6 to 16 in 10 cities (roughly 100 children per city) to find out where they liked to eat, shop, and have fun.

''This is not what parents think are the coolest places or what the hotel thinks, but what kids think," said John Lee, vice president of brand marketing for Embassy.

Judging from the new Boston guide, some of the recommendations may be a bit unrealistic. For example, the Boston guide includes among the best family outings a visit to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox.

Other recommended family outings in Boston are the Boston Duck Tours and the observatory at the John Hancock Tower.

Other categories include best pizza (Bertucci's and Santarpio's), best burger (Boston House of Pizza), and best dessert (Ankara Cafe, JP Licks, and in Cambridge, Toscanini's and Christina's Homemade Ice Cream).

In San Francisco, the best family outings include a visit to Metreon, Sony Corp.'s technology and entertainment complex; a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; and a trip to the Jelly Belly factory in nearby Fairfield.

Contact Bruce Mohl at mohl@globe.com.

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